By Shambhavi Saxena:
Comics strike a perfect balance between visuals and texts. And, since the 70s, they’ve become an important medium for talking about complex personal and political issues, including women’s rights and the stigma around abortion.
Any student of literature will concede that there are more ways to present a narrative than just placing one word after another, and comics take their rightful place in the pantheon of communication alongside music, painting, theatre and film. Tintins and Amar Chitra Kathas have already enthralled the childhoods of many with their story-telling prowess. And in the recent past, we’ve witnessed the explosion of graphic novels.
Comic books, historically, have been a realm of counterculture – both structurally (by replacing words with images) and thematically (through its exploration of politics, sex, even philosophy). So it’s only natural that comics should plunge into the hardtalk about issue of abortion. In the simplest of terms, an abortion entails the termination of an unwanted pregnancy. But what these comics capture brilliantly is the fact that medical or surgical abortion in itself is only the nucleus of a complex orbital system, comprising of social stigma, access to health care and contraception, rape, shame, freedom of choice, legal frameworks and much more.
You might remember excerpts from Leah Hayes’ book, ‘Not Funny Ha-Ha‘ which went viral online earlier this year. Along with introducing the concept to the reader, the narrative illustrates the anxiety as well as the normality of the abortion process through its two main characters ‘Mary’ and ‘Lisa’. Carol Rosetti’s panel, from her series ‘Women’, highlights the prejudices people around us have about abortion.
So too does this anonymous submission on Empathize This, which talks about how other people view abortion as a barbaric or shameful act, rather than an exercise in choice and protecting one’s own body. Another such comic, submitted to the tumblr blog Abortion Looks Like, also pushes for a shift in attitudes towards the procedure, which ought to be regarded as normal as any other surgical or medical process.
The 1970s, termed the Silver Age of Comic Books, saw the rise of Marvel and other super-hero universes, but it was also the decade in which the women’s movement was going full-steam ahead on its demands for reproductive rights and care. The release of Lyn Chevely and Joyce Sutton’s comic ‘Abortion Eve’ in 1973 was no small accident. The work stressed a woman’s right to her own body and therefore her personal power to elect whether or not to have an abortion.
The company “Nanny Goat Productions printed approximately 20,000 copies of this comic book” and even though no new editions have come out since, the artist community of the internet has continued in its footsteps of creating meaningful, thought provoking, transformative narratives on the experience of abortion – before, during and after.
Webcomics occupy that democratic space that the internet provides to artistic expression and undoubtedly have a much wider reach than even 20,000 physical comics could ever hope to have had in the ‘70s. With circulation down pat, building awareness on abortion and also targeting the roots of stigma that shroud the process signals a significant phase in the fight for women’s right to their own bodies. The level of sensitivity and respect with which these comics approach their subject matter is just lovely and empowering to see, and panel by panel, they’re changing the way we look at abortion or in other words, a woman’s right to her own body.